The Nationals wore Navy caps before both games of their doubleheader Tuesday to pay tribute to the shooting victims at the Navy Yard on Monday morning. They wore them again today for batting practice. The gesture sparked a question both inside and outside the Nationals’ clubhouse: Why don’t they wear them during the games?
Before we get to the answer, I’m going to indulge in a brief commentary: Whether the Nationals wore the Navy hats on the field during the game is beyond trivial, and the idea that the Nationals could only honor or show grief for the victims while wearing the Navy hats is beyond narrow. The Nationals held two one-minute moments of silence, one before each game. In the absence of wearing them, players lined up the Navy hats along a ledge beneath the dugout railing during both games. Nationals players and officials urged fans through social media to wear navy and gold to Nationals Park. Players and officials expressed thoughtful sentiments about what it meant to play baseball in the shadow of such horror. As the tragedy unfolded, the Nationals allowed one of their parking lots to be used as a meeting area for families. They wore their patriotic blue uniforms during the day game. The Nationals could have announced Monday night’s postponement earlier. Otherwise, it seems impossible that anyone who attended either game yesterday could draw disrespect from how the Nationals reacted to the tragedy, or that taking off the hats meant they no longer cared. There was more to their actions than what kind of hat they wore during the games.
That’s how I feel. As for background about the hats, we have those details.
As of Tuesday morning, the Nationals did not know a Navy admiral would drop by the clubhouse to hand out hats. When he did, the Nationals felt honored. They called MLB to ask permission to wear them during batting practice. The Nationals never asked to wear them during the game – partly because not all of them fit, Manager Davey Johnson said. MLB granted permission for the Nationals to wear them during batting practice.
“I mean, it was nice that they gave us the hats,” Johnson said. “Everybody cherished the hats. I just think it was a show of solidarity that we wear them through the anthem, in respect toward the military, tragedy and the service. All the above. As far as wearing them out there, a lot of them didn’t fit so I don’t know how comfortable guys would be with hats that don’t fit and fly off, although our hats seem to fly off a lot anyway. [Bryce] Harper’s always. But no, it wasn’t a big issue.”
Many Nationals players wanted to keep them on for the games, but the decision was made above their heads – the players ultimately wear whatever is hanging in their locker.
“We were talking about, ‘Are we wearing these for the game?’ ”reliever Tyler Clippard said. “I guess we weren’t. I was kind of mad that we didn’t do something during the game – a badge or a pin or a hat or something. I didn’t know the details of all that. It’s not my job. I just get the uniform and wear it.”
First baseman Adam LaRoche felt that wearing the Navy hats during batting practice and holding them during the pregame moment of silence and national anthem was the least the Nationals players could do. He wanted to wear the caps during the night game so he tried spreading the word among teammates.
LaRoche was willing to wear the Navy cap during the game and gladly pay any accompanying fine. But he feared he would send the message that he was drawing attention to himself, and preferred a team-wide effort. Even though wearing non-sanctioned gear during the game requires special permission, LaRoche believes it would have been worth doing in this case.
“Nobody would have been upset,” he said. “It would have been great. I think MLB throws all rules at the window at that point. I know they’re Under Armour, but whatever. None of that matters. The purpose is to show that those people are in our thoughts and in our prayers and thinking about them and almost playing this game for them. Either way, it’s awful that it happened right here. It’s awful when it happens anywhere. It’s worse when it’s right by.”
In LaRoche’s mind, wearing a Navy hat during the game would only be a small gesture and wouldn’t repair the lost lives, injuries and sorrow.
“I wish we could do more,” he said. “Maybe next week or something we can. Kids who lost parents. I hope they keep us in mind when they need to call for some support for those families.”
The Nationals only asked MLB for permission to wear the Navy caps during batting practice, pregame ceremonies and the national anthem, General Manager Mike Rizzo said. The Nationals, and other teams, have asked to wear non-standard issue gear during games to honor other causes and incidents, such as 9/11, this year and in the past and have been rejected.
“We had asked several times before and were not allowed to do it,” Rizzo said. “Knowing that, we requested that could we at least wear them for our pregame batting practice and the national anthem. We thought that we had a better chance of getting an okay for that than we did for the game.”
The Nationals had been interested in wearing the Navy caps on Tuesday, but have other potential ways of recognizing the tragedy in the future.
“We’re looking into other things to honor the victims and to recognize the tragedy,” Rizzo said.
ESPN commentator Keith Olbmermann caused a stir when he shredded the Nationals and, more so, MLB for the Nationals not wearing the hats during the game.
“I read Olbermann’s critique of it,” Johnson said. “He’s not high on my list.”